OnlyFans was founded in 2016 as an online social network allowing ‘digital creatives’ to build an audience and monetize directly with their ‘Fans’. In theory this was a wonderful idea that I have supported for years. In practice however, OnlyFans has grown to 120 million subscribers by hosting – almost exclusively – ‘pay-for-play’ pornography. Now there’s nothing illegal if one person pays another to share explicit photos or videos online – if the participants are willing and consenting adults. However, it’s absolutely criminal if this content includes exploitation, underage subjects or involves incest, for example.
As reported by Noel Titheradge of the BBC in OnlyFans: How it handles illegal sex videos, the evolution of OnlyFans into a porn site was not a big surprise given the loose moderation policies adopted by the company. One of the biggest problems with centralized social media sites like OnlyFans is that as a publisher, they are responsible for moderating all posts to ensure they do not publish illegal images like child pornography, prostitution or sexual exploitation.
OnlyFans apparently has a zero-tolerance policy for sexually explicit material or prostitution but their moderation and enforcement is dodgy and ineffectively applied. For example, moderators at OnlyFans report being told to issue multiple warnings to content producers who violate terms. It seems the more ‘Fans the poster has and therefore the more revenue they generate, the more loosely the rules are applied. And, OnlyFans keeps 20% of all creators’ revenue.
As Titheradge’s article exposed, moderators who find child pornography or illegal content posted on the most popular micro-sites are directed by management to simply issue numerous warnings. If the creator still doesn’t remove the offending content, instead of restricting or terminating the account, moderators should refer the matter to upper management. This is why I believe OnlyFans needs to moderate their content immaculately, or be shut down.
As a start-up entrepreneur I get it, you want to grow quickly to prove that your business plan and investors’ faith was well-founded. Everyone wants to succeed including OnlyFans, but it turns out that their road to success was paved with porn.
Offering a platform where sex workers or people with a predilection for esoteric porn can safely build a community and monetize directly with their ‘Fans’ is actually a noble cause, and a valid business model. Like nearly all internet services, OnlyFans is a centralized, cloud-based platform, and like many, they generate revenue from every transaction. I believe they have a legal and moral duty to ensure their content moderation is state of the art and virtually instantaneous. If that’s not possible, OnlyFans and similar sites should be shut down or forced to admit that they are porn sites, not social media platforms.
The Road Less Travelled
We’ve all heard the old English proverb: The road to hell is paved with good intentions. When OnlyFans determined the majority of their users were sex workers and distributors of pornography, they should have acknowledged the fact and pivoted their business model to accommodate this new reality.
OnlyFans management and investors likely didn’t expect the platform to become a porn site, but it did, and it grew very fast. At that time, squeamish investors, banks and payments providers should have been informed that the company was embracing its role as a porn site to allow suppliers to sever ties with Only Fans in an orderly fashion.
Instead, OnlyFans enabled pornographers and sex workers to build a community, swelling their numbers and making investors very happy – only to turn on that very community when backers got nervous. It is not the sex workers and pornographers that got it wrong, it was OnlyFans’ management.
Blaming users for the indecisiveness and ineptitude of management is no way to build a company, but it’s certainly a great way to destroy one.